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Being from USA, I am eligible for the 90/180 no-visa rule in Schengen. But wanting longer makes for considerable hassle. Long-stay visas for Spain are really designed for people who want to move there, and the red tape SUCKS. Plus, if I get it, I'm still subject to the 90/180 rule for the rest of Schengen.

I can find the various applications for Schengen visa for other countries, but if I try to pursue that, all I get is a knee-jerk "You're from USA, you don't need a visa."

Is there a legal way for an American to spend about a year in more than one Schengen country without the hassle of counting days on the calendar? The main country would be Spain, but there would be short trips in France, Germany, Poland, Italy, and probably others.

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Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no. Your best bet is to get the Spanish long-stay visa (or one from another country if you can find one with less red tape) and then spend at least half of your time in that country. In practice, you'll be unlikely to get into trouble if you exceed 90 days in other Schengen countries in a 180-day period, because there's no systematic tracking of internal movements. It would normally become a problem only of you came to the attention of the police for some other reason.

Getting Schengen short-stay visas (type C) from other countries won't help you at all, because the 90/180 rule applies to those visas just as it does to visa-free stays. You could in theory get multiple long-stay visas (for example, if you planned to exceed the 90/180 restriction in both Spain and France), but qualifying for such a visa in more than one country seems unlikely, and even if you could, you would be adding to the bureaucratic burden rather than reducing it.

Another strategy, of course, is to plan a lot of your European travel in the UK (you can stay for up to six months in the UK without a visa, as you may know), Ireland, and the non-Schengen Balkan countries, as well as any other extra-Schengen trips you care to make.

There are also some Schengen countries where you can stay up to 90 days despite having exhausted your Schengen limit, because of bilateral agreements between those countries and the US. Poland and Denmark have such agreements. But beware: your time in those countries does count against your Schengen limit, so once you've exhausted it, you have to leave the Schengen area directly from that country (or fly to another such country). That is, if you spend 90 days in Germany, you can then go to Poland or Denmark for 90 days, but if you spend 90 days in Poland or Denmark, you cannot go to Germany.

So, even if you don't get a long-stay visa, you can probably contrive a one-year itinerary that keeps you within the law, provided you're willing to spend a fair amount of time in

  • Schengen "bilateral agreement" countries

    • Denmark
    • Poland
    • (others?)
  • Non-Schengen countries [EU]

    • UK
    • Ireland
    • Bulgaria
    • Romania
    • Croatia
  • Non-Schengen countries [non-EU]

    • Bosnia and Herzegovina
    • Serbia
    • Montenegro
    • Kosovo
    • Macedonia
    • Albania
    • Turkey
    • Russia
    • Belarus
    • Ukraine
    • Moldova
    • Morocco
    • Others farther afield
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    I have no reason to doubt your answer, yet it does seem weird that they are happy to have us in for ninety days with NO red tape, yet make it nearly impossible to go longer. While other countries that have to have a visa to get in at all don't need much extra to stay longer. – WGroleau Oct 2 '17 at 19:25
  • @WGroleau it's true. The strict 90/180 rule has other drawbacks, including the inability to transit through the Schengen area if one's 90 days are exhausted (apart from airport-only transit, which is allowed; a Lufthansa flight with a leg between Frankfurt and Munich would not be allowed, however). There are some provisions for the authorities to make exceptions in some cases, but it seems they are virtually impossible to come by. – phoog Oct 2 '17 at 20:08
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    @WGroleau: As I understand it, it's simply that the Schengen treaty provided for 90/180, but nothing further. It's not that they specifically object to having you stay for longer, but there is no legal framework to enable it. Spain has no authority to grant you permission to enter other countries beyond what's authorized by the treaty. – Nate Eldredge Oct 2 '17 at 21:03
  • @NateEldredge The Schengen treaty specifically imposes the 90/180 rule on visa-free entry and on type C visas. It provides a specific category of visa, type D, under which countries can allow people to stay on their own territory outside the 90/180 rule, the conditions being governed by national law. A few years ago, such visas did not allow visits to other Schengen countries unless issued as type D+C. This confusing system was simplified with the rule that a type D visa or residence permit automatically authorizes presence in other Schengen countries unless endorsed to the contrary. – phoog Oct 2 '17 at 21:17
  • @NateEldredge but the reason there's "no framework to enable it" is precisely that the treaty seeks to prohibit non-EU nationals from spending more than 90 days in any 180-day period in the Schengen zone except by way of a national visa. In other words, they do specifically object to it, which is why there's no framework for it. – phoog Oct 2 '17 at 21:19

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